The 2021 List: May

Well, there goes May rushing off into the rainy sunset. Just as well the month was saved by some good, albeit not Great, movies, ‘cos the weather here in Blighty was diabolical – even as far as UK summers go, this one’s looking to be going the way of the Star Trek franchise. And in Television-land, Line of Duty proved that Game of Thrones isn’t the only long-running series that should have called it quits while the going was good. But hey, I had my second jab last week…

Television

50) Line of Duty Season Six

59) Love, Death & Robots Vol.2

Films

49) King of New York (1990)

51) Promising Young Woman (2021)

52) Train to Busan Presents: Peninsula (2020)

53) Unthinkable (2018)

54) Honest Thief (2020)

55) Johnny O’Clock (1947)

56) The Dark Past (1948)

57) City of Fear (1959)

58) The Sniper (1952)

60) Army of the Dead (2021)

Columbia Noir: The Dark Past (1948)

cn3bI can’t very well ridicule contemporary films for excessive plot contrivances and let something like The Dark Past get away with it. This noir is so laden with leaden coincidence after coincidence that it largely collapses under their weight: prison escapee Al Walker (an astonishingly young and handsome William Holden who is clearly better suited to playing good guys than bad) on the run with his gang of accomplices that includes his girlfriend Betty (Nina Foch) holes up in the lakeside weekend retreat of -get this- University Criminal psychology professor Andrew Collins (Lee J.Cobb) who endeavours to analyse Walker and break the pattern of Walker’s violence while being held hostage. Based on a play and centred largely within one location, the film tries to intensify the tension of Collins and Walker’s sparring and attempts to suggest that criminal behaviour can be ‘cured’ and criminals rehabilitated through psychoanalysis. This may have been a progressive and revelatory idea at the time, but in practice it feels rather over-simplistic.

Both William Holden and Lee J. Cobb are in fine form but the material they have to work with isn’t strong enough, so they over-compensate in their heated arguments leaving the performances feeling a little ‘off’. Nina Foch benefits from a stronger role than she got in Johnny O’Clock, certainly- indeed she may be the films finest asset and I haven’t seen her as good as this up to now. This Indicator release includes a very interesting video interview with film historian Pamela Hutchinson about Foch’s life and career which is an excellent supplement to her roles in various entries of  this noir series, and proves a compelling reason to re-examine, for instance, what I considered a lesser film, Escape in the Fog, in light of her subsequent roles and career (which is to say, what a great special feature and further example of what’s great about these physical releases). 

So most likely one of this set’s lesser entries, but as usual with noir from this period, there is something quite seductive about this films milieu- the setting and décor, particularly of the lakeside retreat that looks utterly gorgeous and so of its time. And the film even features a (presumably early) role for Lois Maxwell, familiar to us now for her role as Miss Moneypenny in the early James Bond films. I wonder what twist of fate and career brought her to this supporting role (she plays Collin’s wife) in a Columbia noir? I guess that’s another story, and unfortunately one not revealed in the extras, unless its revealed in the commentary track which I haven’t listened to yet.

The 2021 List: February

Well there goes a cold one, in more ways than one. Can’t say I enjoyed much of February at all. Lockdown continues, working from home continues (its been almost a year now). Covid is as never-ending as the finale of The Return of the King, and certainly not as pleasant. But the days are getting longer; and more sun is A Good Thing.  

The oddest thing is that I have so much yet unwatched, even though we really have so much time and so little opportunity for anything else. Maybe its some kind of Covid Fatigue, that even with so much time/so many evenings at home that I haven’t made better progress through my list of unwatched discs. I’d have thought that the Shelf of Shame would be a thing of the past by now, or especially any recent purchases would have been watched. Alas, even recent purchases like Blu-rays of Eve from Indicator, Spring from 101 films, and Judgement at Nuremberg from the BFI, all stand on the shelf, waiting. As usual there’s also the ever-increasing backlog on Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Oh, and of course the remainder of Indicator’s Columbia Noir #2, but to be honest I hate to rush through boxsets like that too quickly anyway; I much prefer to savour them. To be fair, its not as if there’s a pile of imminent releases to add to any pile: I don’t think I have any discs on order at all that are due to be released in March, although I am tempted by Criterion’s recent release of The Ascent (1977) which I hear is very good and might be an excuse to spend some of the birthday money burning a hole in my pocket (although now that I think about Criterion, I realise that I still have Criterion’s edition of The New World to watch, I’d quite forgotten about that one). I had been looking forward to Gattaca, one of my favourite films, being released on a 4K UHD in March but that seems to have been pushed back to June. Its getting so its easy to tighten up on disc purchases; I’ve pre-ordered Columbia Noir #3 and Someone To Watch Over Me from Indicator (due in May) but other than Gattaca, that’s about it for the next few months. I’m pretty sure it’ll all prove to be a lull before a storm of releases in the second half of the year. 

Television

16. Supermarket Season One

17. The Expanse Season Five (2020)

24. Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021)

30. Sykes Series One (1972)

31. Sykes Series Two (1973)

Films

19. The Naked Kiss (1964)

20. Morning Glory (2010)

21. Greenland (2020)

22. The Dig (2021)

23. One Night in Miami (2020)

25. Framed (1947)

26. The News of the World (2020)

27. 711 Ocean Drive (1950)

28. The Mob (1951)

29. Alexander: The Final Cut (2004/2007)

The 2020 List: December

Hey, at long last we can kiss/wave goodbye to this horrible year. I wish I could suggest that next year will be better – it could hardly be any worse, but I fear we may largely get more of the same. I remain open to being pleasantly surprised.

Anyway, the year ended with something of a whimper, numbers-wise and getting posts up. Maybe I was just a bit burned-out after finally reaching 200, but much of it was work-related. The run-up to Christmas is a thankless time of year doing my job and tends to wreck things- hardly needed Covid’s help, but hey, we’re in Tier 4 as of midnight yesterday. 2020 is the year that just keeps on giving.

Television

202) The Crown Season Four

208) The Job Lot Season One

212) The Job Lot Season Two

Films

203) Drive a Crooked Road

204) Ava (2020)

205) Polytechnique (2009)

206) 5 Against the House (1955)

207) Black Water: Abyss (2020)

209) Genius Party (2007)

210) Genius Party Beyond (2008)

211) Tenet (2020)

June Thorburn film coming up

price1In case anyone is interested, I’ve spotted in the schedules of the Talking Pictures channel the 1959 film The Price of Silence, which features June Thorburn, an actress that really caught my attention with her performance in The Scarlet Blade when I watched it last month. The Price of Silence airs on Sunday 21st June at the decidedly unfashionable hour of 02:40, so I’ve got the Tivo ready for that one.

While I’m at it, other scheduling treats coming up on Talking Pictures are the great Kathleen Harrison (who stole the show in Turn the Key Softly) featuring in two movies: Waterfront Women (1950) airing on Monday 15th June at 09:30, and the comedy Where There’s a Will (1955) the following day, Tuesday 16th June at 02:30. Where There’s a Will also features George (Arthur Daley) Cole, so could be fun. I’ve not seen any of these three films before so will have to see how they turn out, but I’m particularly intrigued at seeing June Thorburn again.

Dear Santa

1999 super.jpgWell, this looks very lovely. At long last the Prince Estate seems to have gotten things right with a pretty definitive-looking Super Deluxe edition of one of his classic albums, here comprising 5 CDs plus a concert DVD, or (for vinyl collectors), 10 lps and a concert DVD (there’s also a ‘budget’ 2-disc (4 lp) edition whose only purpose seems to be pushing people into buying the more expensive/complete set as its so frankly redundant).

Being released at the end of November, this thing has Christmas List all over it, which is a canny move by all concerned- other than the Purple Rain Deluxe the other vault releases following Prince’s passing have had their merits but have hardly set the mainstream world alight, satisfied the fans or sold hugely. Maybe this set is the point at which things change and we get ‘proper’ Super Deluxe sets that deserve that moniker and fans attention. 1999 was the first single/album by Prince that caught me, back when I was at college, so for me it’s nicely apt that its the first ‘proper’ set.

Rumour has it Parade is next, but we’re surely all just waiting for the Sign o’ the Times Super Deluxe, if our bank balances can stand it (and maybe a revisit to Purple Rain someday? That would seem inevitable at some point). My only sobering consideration about this release is that it’s perhaps ten years overdue- Prince should have allowed these kind of releases many years ago, and it’s terribly sad that it had to wait until he passed. I understand it’s his music, his legacy, and he was more interested in ‘new’ music than looking back on his old success, even if the rumours of the Vault increasingly shadowed over then-‘new’ albums, but it’s almost tragic that he was never interested in curating this kind of release or having any input in it- imagine if this was accompanied by a book of his reminisces/commentary about the music and his career back then?

Perhaps if he had lived longer he might have reconsidered things- we’ll never know. As a fan, his shyness/enigma was both fascinating and infuriating, and it would have been marvelous if he had decided to pull aside the curtain, so to speak, and reveal to his fans the behind-the-scenes story behind one of the most gifted musicians and remarkable life’s work in that vault. Instead, well, perhaps we’ll eventually get to hear (most?) of the music hidden in the vault and when the scope of all that life’s work is known maybe that enigma and mystery will be all the more tantalising. We may get the music, but he’ll always keep us wanting more, eh?

Last Week: Glory, Alien, Dune… and Captain Nemo in Space

Last week was unfortunately hampered by real-life issues impacting my posting here, and I didn’t make much progress with my re-read of Frank Herbert’s Dune because a shinier book came my way. I’m so shallow and time is so limited: sorry Frank, I must try harder.

The disc releases of films from 1989 celebrating 30th anniversaries continued with the 4K UHD release of Glory, a film I have mentioned before here when remembering seeing it at the cinema. It never gets any easier realising how many years have passed by me when films get anniversaries, whether it be twenty, thirty, forty, it’s all a sobering reminder of time slipping. Music fans no doubt mark time by anniversaries of album releases etc, and I can be guilty of that myself, but usually its movies with me. Glory is thirty years old damn it, and I’m thirty years older.

Its looking better for those thirty years than I am. I haven’t sat down to watch the film yet- watching old favourites is like enjoying a fine wine, it’s something to be savoured and appreciated when able to give it the attention it deserves, and this week has been far too hectic, but I was curious enough about the transfer that I did watch the first fifteen minutes, and it looks great. As always with Glory though, whenever I watch it I am struck by the beauty of James Horner’s score, and like Field of Dreams, which I watched a few week back as that film is also celebrating thirty years, it’s always a little sad now, hearing Horner back in his prime and remembering what we have lost with his passing. Its also a reminder of how much film scoring styles have changed over these thirty years, and not for the better- even if James Horner was still around and scoring today, his scores for films now would sound little like these scores. They are not in vogue anymore, that old (I would suggest ‘proper’) kind of scoring.

Alien of course, is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year and its 4K UHD (and cinema re-release, albeit limited) has been accompanied by J W RInzler’s excellent book The Making of Alien. I’m really, really enjoying reading it. So far I haven’t read anything particularly ‘new’ to me, it’s really just recounting things I already knew from other books and contemporary magazines of the day, such as Fantastic Films, Starburst, Cinefantastique etc, and naturally the various documentaries made to accompany DVD and Blu-ray box-sets over the years. But it’s an almost tangible nostalgic joy reading it all again, especially in such a richly presented format. Dan O’Bannon, John Carpenter, Ron Cobb, Ronald Shusett, Ridley Scott- these are names from my teenage years that were like the names of  football stars to other kids my age. And yes, it’s surely nostalgia, but going back to the 1970s, and reading about O’Bannon going off to Paris to work on Jodorowsky’s Dune with Moebius, Chris Foss and H R Giger, and Gary Kurtz calling O’Bannon about a film he was producing called Star Wars… those were wild times, back then. Analogue times in an analogue age, I guess.

Mentioning Dune brings to mind the recent news that Villenueve’s Dune has completed shooting, and the announcement yesterday, I think, that its November 2020 release date has been pushed back a month to December 18, 2020. That’s Oscar territory right there, and the same period that Spielberg’s West Side Story remake is due. Dune is by far the most exciting film in my immediate future, with huge expectations for me. Just imagining that film all in the can, in the old parlance of things (really I should write ‘all on the hard drive‘ because that’s where it lies, or on various servers somewhere at various stages of post-production). At this stage of things, without any stills or teasers or trailers, the project is full of all kinds of crazy possibilities. Maybe this is the best of times, indeed, when everything yet seems possible. I remember those heady days of Revenge of the Jedi (before it became ‘Return’), wondering how George Lucas would follow The Empire Strikes Back. And of course the more recent (and more tension-tinged) period when BR2049 was at a similar stage, and all the secrecy around that particular project made Blade Runner fans like me especially nervous.  Well, that turned out great- here’s hoping Dune does too.

I’ve found myself reflecting on BR2049 a lot, lately. A sure sign that I’m about due a rewatch. Its been awhile; indeed, I may not have actually watched it this year at all yet. I still haven’t managed the double-bill of Blade Runner and BR2049 in the same evening, something that in the old days of more free time (less of a ‘real life’) would have been the most natural Saturday evening in the world.

One curious thing I did do last week- when I found half-hour free one night, I found a recent recording of The Black Hole on my Tivo and gave the first twenty minutes or so a go, curious at seeing it in widescreen and HD. I actually saw The Black Hole at the cinema, way back when it was in direct competition with Star Trek: The Motion Picture. While ST:TMP had pretensions towards 2001, The Black Hole was really just Disney knocking-off a Star Wars wannabe whilst nodding back to its own classic 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (maybe it should have been titled ‘20,000 Light Years Into Space’). I haven’t seen the film in decades and doubt I’ll ever have the two hours required for a full rewatch, especially on the evidence of this twenty minutes. Good lord it’s horribly dated. While I quite enjoy the John Barry score (I had the old LP and have the recent Intrada expansion) it doesn’t seem to work in the film at all, and Vincent is such an annoying R2D2 it’s a grim reminder of how much Star Wars influenced film back then. So many sci fi films had to have robots and spaceships flying overhead and laser gun battles etc. Its curious to think that Alien was released a few months earlier than The Black Hole or ST:TMP, and while all three owed a great deal to the existence of Star Wars kickstarting the sci-fi boom of those years, it’s clear that Alien was really its own thing, while the other two felt so inclined to flatter the effects extravaganza of Lucas’ blockbuster. I well recall Starburst‘s John Brosnan likely having the time of his life ripping at both The Black Hole and ST:TMP in his reviews.

bhStill, there was some value to seeing Ernest Borgnine and Anthony Perkins again, and I do adore the design of the Cygnus, that was such a beautiful model. I watched up to the moment that the darkened, and apparently derelict Cygnus is suddenly lit up, ablaze of light, like some Victorian dream of space travel. Arresting if somewhat preposterous. Its a nice moment that really caught my imagination back when the film came out. Nice starfields too. Yeah, some nice effects in that film, but it’s a horribly mangled Captain Nemo in Space film, really. There’s certainly a much better film in there that we never had opportunity to see, and a bad one that we unfortunately did. George Lucas had a lot to answer for, even back then.

 

The 2019 List: May

So here’s May- and there’s a marked lean away this month from television shows towards movies. Indeed, the only show I watched this month was season eight of Game of Thrones, but with all the attention that television event received you could be forgiven for thinking that was the only show on television this month. But away from that, sixteen movies- some kind of record for me I think, and indeed bringing my total of shows/movies so far this year to 72 now, which is remarkable really. Best film of the month was John Wick Ch.3, and the worst, well, I think Suspiria edged The Wandering Earth, if only because while both were pretty dire, at least the latter had a bit of a fun element picking out the cheesy nods/homages/direct steals from other films.

Tv Shows

69) Game of Thrones Season Eight

Movies

56) Suspiria

57) Widows

58) The Wandering Earth

59) Adrift

60) Halloween 2018

61) The Terror of the Tongs

62) Creed II

63) Avengers Endgame

64) Isle of Dogs

65) Get Out

66) John Wick Ch.3: Parabellum

67) Can’t Stand Losing You

68) Rocky Balboa

70) See You Yesterday

71) The Girl in the Spider’s Web

72) Rim of the World

Malevolent (2018)

mal1An American brother-sister team of ghostbusting scam artists who swindle gullible bereaved people, have repatriated to Scotland, home of their late mother who used to hear voices/see ‘things’ before cutting out her own eyes and killing herself some years ago.  Angela (Florence Pugh) is growing tired of the scams/developing a conscience/starting to ‘see’ things herself, but elder brother Jackson (Ben Lloyd-Hughes) owes money to some vague mob and one last job that promises to pay double is his way out of trouble. Unfortunately for the siblings and their two friends who assist them, this last case involves a sadistic multiple torture/ murder in a children’s foster home and there’s more than just ghosts they need to deal with- the original torturer/killer is on the loose…

Well, if anything that seems even remotely realistic and reasonable to you, then, well, I’m sure this film is for you. Me? I nearly choked on my cup of tea several times as the twists and coincidences piled up. In the films defence, its a low-budget horror film in an already busy market place, so I guess there’s a tendency to pile on the dumb horror as quickly as you can. Not that there’s really much horror- a few jump scares, lots of low dark synth mood music and the usual torture porn that passes for creepiness/tension these days.  Considering its set in 1989. it doesn’t really feel like it’s set in that decade at all, and if I were a cynic I’d suggest it’s just a plot device to maroon our heroes in a desolate old building having no mobile phones to call for help. Oh go on then. Its absolutely just a lazy/simple contrivance to keep mobile phones off the menu.

Florence Pugh, who was so good in Lady Macbeth awhile ago, looks utterly bored here.  Maybe she’s too pretty? It seems unfair to blame her for being pretty, but her character is basically a blank slate/porcelain doll that’s devoid of any interest, so her coolly detached looks are all she’s got. When you’ve got no empathy for the lead actress, you know a film is in trouble, and the supporting characters are even more cardboard/unremarkable. When the bad stuff starts to happen and the bodycount starts to climb, it’s hard to even care or feel any interest at all, so certainly tension is lacking.

Ultimately it’s all very predictable, so much so it’s hard to shake the feeling you’ve seen it all before, maybe in an old 1970s movie you’ve otherwise forgotten. I think they let anyone make movies these days- maybe that’s the problem with much of this Netflix Originals stuff; Netflix just wants something to fill the airtime and are a bit too generous with the money, so anyone with a script and a camera can make a quick buck.

Cold War (2018)

cold1Here’s a love story like few others I’ve seen in film- in the grandest tradition of Romeo and Juliet, or perhaps Casablanca (a film Cold War always seems to nod to with its 4:3 Academy-ratio, beautiful black and white photography) these two characters -Wiktor and Zula, star-crossed lovers caught in postwar Europe- are deeply in love but destined to repeatedly fall apart, the same chemistry that brings them together always pushing against them. In just the same way as La la Land told us that not even the greatest of love affairs always end well, so Cold War also casts a cautionary spell, and reminds movie lovers that maybe it’s the saddest love stories that are the best.

Its 1949, and musicologists Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and Irena (Agata Kulesza) roam the countryside of Poland recording folk songs as if trying to preserve a way of life before it is lost forever, but their efforts to maintain the music and culture of the common people through a showcase troupe of dancers and singers is increasingly pressed upon by the authorities to also sing the praises of Stalin and communist reforms. Wiktor is smitten by one of the ensemble- Zula (Joanna Kulig), a mysterious young woman who killed her own father  (“He mistook me for my mother”, she tells Wiktor, “so I used a knife to show him the difference”). While their secret affair continues the troupe becomes increasingly popular, culminating in an engagement in Berlin in 1952 that offers Wiktor a chance to defect to the West. He urges Zula to join him, but ultimately has to go alone. But of course, that’s not the end of the story, as the years pass and the two lovers inevitably meet again, and part again, and meet and part…

Kulig is pretty astonishing here- I’ve never seen her before and she is simply remarkable in this, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She has this magnetic charisma with the camera, its like watching a movie star of old. Her character is beautiful and talented, but restless and conflicted, a fascinating creation. You just don’t see performances/roles like this very often,

Of course part of the beauty of the film is its gorgeous photography and evocation of a postwar Europe increasingly fracturing between East and West, and the relentless sense that wherever the two lovers are, they never seem to be home, as if ‘home’, that old Poland and its folk songs of impossible loves doesn’t really exist anymore. Forever out of place, their solace together is always temporary.

The frustrations of this film is in this sense of truth- in its unattainable peace, thwarted desires, aching passions there is a feeling of reality and disaster. Its episodic format across the years leaves many questions unanswered, glimpses of the years between hinting at things we can only wonder about. The shades of grey in the exquisite photography is mirrored in the editing and the story, and it is distinctly European, failing to contain any of the platitudes and fairytales a Hollywood love story might have tried to fool us with.  Instead, it feels real, and is all the more painful because of it.